NASA study confirms initial findings - Space can alter genes

How Spaceflight Changes Gene Expression

How Spaceflight Changes Gene Expression

So when Scott Kelly was selected, along with Mikhail Korniyenko, for a special 340-day so-called year-long mission to the International Space Station, HRP was provided with the opportunity to study the medical, psychological and biomedical challenges faced by astronauts during long-duration spaceflight. Seven percent of his genes did not return to normal after he landed, researchers found. A study of Kelly and his identical twin brother found that spending almost a year in space significantly changed the astronaut's DNA.

Scott stayed on the International Space Station from March 2015 to March 2016, while Mark remained on Earth. Scott (right) spent a year in space while Mark (left) stayed on Earth as a control subject. They looked at various proteins and evaluated the twins' cognition as part of the overall study.

The researchers linked space travel to oxygen deprivation stress, increased inflammation and striking nutrient shifts that affect gene expression. Some changes returned to baseline within hours or days of landing, while a few persisted after six months. Increasing the mission from the typical six-month length to nearly one year resulted in no significant decreases in Scott's cognitive performance while in flight.

"Scott's telomeres (endcaps of chromosomes that shorten as one ages) actually became significantly longer in space", NASA researchers wrote in a statement. While most genes returned to normal after he returned to Earth, 7 percent did not. The space agency added that Kelly had hundreds of "space genes" activated by the year-long flight which reportedly altered the astronaut's "immune system, DNA fix, bone formation networks, hypoxia, and hypercapnia". Later in 2018, an integrated summary publication of the Twin Study is expected to be released. The mental slow down was blamed on "re-exposure and adjustment to Earth's gravity".

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